Wall Street closes mostly higher

US stocks finish mostly higher as investors cheer corporate earnings reports.

Strong corporate earnings reports, especially in the technology sector, propelled the S&P 500 index to a record close.

At the closing bell, the benchmark S&P 500 index climbed 3.48 points, or 0.2%, to 1,987.01, topping its last record reached on July 3. The Nasdaq Composite gained 17.68 points, or 0.4%, to 4473.70, lifted by better-than-expected earnings from Apple.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 26.91 points, or 0.2%, weighed by a disappointing news from Boeing and Caterpillar.

Surprisingly strong second-quarter reports have driven stocks' recent push, giving shares a reprieve after they were rattled last week by tensions in the Middle East and Ukraine. Companies in the S&P 500 are on pace to increase earnings 5.6% from the year before, according to FactSet. Analysts expected a rise of 4.9% before the unofficial start of reporting season.

"Earnings are coming in pretty well...that's what's carrying the market to new highs," Jerry Braakman, chief investment officer of First American Trust, said.

Mr Braakman expects shares to continue to rise, though he noted that they are trading above their long-term averages. The S&P 500 is trading at 15.7 times its expected earnings for the next year, above its 10-year average of 13.9.

During the session, the International Monetary Fund cut its growth outlook for the US economy for the second time in two months after a first-quarter contraction turned out to be worse than the fund originally forecast.

Biotech stocks rallied after a pair of better-than-expected earnings reports from companies in the sector, with the Nasdaq Biotechnology Index gaining 2.2%. Shares have been under pressure in recent sessions, after a report from the Federal Reserve noted that valuations of biotech, small-cap and social media stocks could be stretched.

Shares of Apple rose 2.6% after the company reported 12% profit growth and strong sales of its iPhone, especially overseas.

Shares of Intuitive Surgical rose 18%. The maker of robotic surgical systems reported a decline in its second-quarter earnings and revenue, but results topped expectations.

Boeing weighed down the Dow despite quarterly earnings that beat Wall Street forecasts. Shares fell 2.3% as some analysts raised concerns about cash flow and the fundamentals of its quarterly earnings growth.

Caterpillar shares slumped 1.5%. The equipment maker posted weaker monthly sales in mining equipment and engines.

Delta Air Lines gained 3.9% after the airline beat forecasts for its second-quarter earnings and said traffic increased. It also said it plans to reinvest about half of its operating cash flow back into the business.

Microsoft added 0.1% after adjusted earnings beat Wall Street forecasts, though results left out items including a $US700 million ($746m) hit from the mobile-phone business it recently acquired from Nokia.

"The focus is on earnings and on M&A," Peter Schwartz, an equities trader at Macquarie in New York, said. "This is the stuff that finally has people getting off their hands."

Market observers say the pace of sales growth has been especially comforting, since those figures aren't affected by cost-cutting or share buybacks. S&P 500 companies are on track to grow second-quarter sales by 3.1% from the previous year, according to FactSet, while analysts initially expected 2.7%.

"It's fine if you've got profit growth because of cost-cutting, but we'd much rather see sales growing," Brian Jacobsen, chief portfolio strategist at Wells Fargo Funds Management, said.

In other corporate news, an examination by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that Deutsche Bank's US operations suffer from a litany of serious problems, including shoddy financial reporting, inadequate auditing and oversight and weak technology systems, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. US-listed shares of the bank rose 2.4%.

Geopolitical tensions continued to simmer. US intelligence officials overnight presented reporters with their most detailed case yet that Russia-backed Ukrainian separatists shot down a Malaysia Airlines jetliner last week, in a bid to counter what US officials see as Russian efforts to muddy the waters with claims of Ukrainian culpability.

European shares rose, with the Stoxx Europe 600 up 0.1%.

In commodity markets, gold futures slipped 0.1% to $US1,304.50 an ounce, while crude-oil futures were up 0.7% to $US103.12 a barrel.